Thursday, November 7, 2019

Seeing Room For Growth

For the last two weeks during the CMU debate workshop here at Saginaw Correctional Facility I've been a judge. I've always made an effort to be a good listener. However, judging debates was a totally different ball game. Having to keep notes and a record of everything that was being expressed was challenging to me.

Do I feel that I was a perfect judge? No. I do feel that I was fair. We were given clear instructions by Professor Ed Hinck that when we debate we should speak slow and clear. During the first debate that I judged the first speaker doing the first affirmative constructive speech started by speaking so fast. I barely could keep up with her argument and record it. This young lady was making and effort to get everything that she prepared for her speech expressed in the allotted time.

The only thing that kept echoing in my mind was the Professors directions to speak slow and clear. Speaking fast did this young lady a disservice in from my perspective. A strong arugement of quality always outweighs an argument of quantity that's hard to follow. I was able to take some substance from her argument but most of it I missed because of how fast she was speaking.

The second debate that I judged was interesting. The question that I posed to myself was is it inappropriate to be encouraging as a judge in this workshop being mindful that this is an opportunity for us to learn and grow together. One debater was clearly nervous. I felt it was appropriate encourage this debater. Some felt that I should not have been doing it, I felt it was good sportsmanship. This debater needed the encouragement because he was shaking like leaves on a tree.

Judging these debates gave me an opportunity to strengthen my active listening skills. When in a conversation we often find ourselves thinking about what we want to say or we have some sort of block that distracts us an prevents us from listening. While judging the only option was to listen.

I begin to prepare for my first debate this week. To be continued....

Friday, October 18, 2019

Rest and Refresh

On October 16th, 2019 Ms. Raquepaw and Professor Flemming Rhode brought in another group of CMU students for the debate workshop. There was an odd number of participants so I didn't get a partner. As of right now I'll be on the clock as a time keeper or I might be an alternate if someone is absent.

I thought being prepared would give me the advantage until I was inform that I could possibly debate against Professor Flemming Rhode. I had to wonder did being to prepared do me a disservice. I'll just have to be study harder.

All the other inmates had an amazing time as they prepared. The consensus is that these workshops are a blessing. To be continued. . . .

Sunday, October 13, 2019

There's No "I" in Team

On October 10, 2019 Ms. Raqupaw, Professor Ed Hinck and the students from Central Michigan University (CMU) came into the facility and I was able to meet my debate partner Paige. Today we learned that we would be doing the negative constructive argument. I was hoping for the affirmative constructive argument but I studied for both. We studied how to judge a debate. The things that are scored are: Delivery, Organization, Analysis, Reasoning, and Refutation. This will require everyone involved to really dig deep on a cognitive level.

It was refreshing to be able to have a strategic conversation with someone and not have to feel that they may try to undermine you when they claim they are working with you. This jaded thought process is something that the prison environment can produce because it can be the reality in some instances. Just as in the community, in prison everyone has their own agenda. Being able to strategize with my partner in the spirit of cooperation, without any doubt of my partner's intentions was amazing. It reminded me that although politics and self -interest play a role in many spheres in life, the idea of "collective impact" and working as a team is still possible.

My interaction with my partner actually helped me put some institutionalized thoughts in perspective. It reminded me that I should continue to be a team player and support others and not be discouraged by individuals that may not understand the important of establishing interdependent relationships while working with others and when organizing. This can done while maintaining your individualism and independence.

This experience will be impactful because it's giving a positive experience in team work. Team work is required in the work force, in organizations, and in companies. I am hoping that this is a healthy experience for the men here inside as well as the students. To be continued...

Monday, September 30, 2019

Strengthen Your Foundation

September 27th, 2019 was an interesting day. Central Michigan University Professfor Ed Hinck was here at Saginaw Correctional Facility located in Freeland Michigan. The lessons for the day were: First Negative/Opposition Speech, Arguing a disadvantage, and Cross-Examination. There was a mock cross-examination by Professor Ed Hinck and Mr. Jones. Being able to see this exchange I was able to highlight some of the negative things that can cause a debater to be seen in an unfavorable light. The sections of this lesson that stood out to me were, "Do's and Don't for the Examiner, "Do's and Don't for the Examinee", and "Common Pitfalls". These sections gives insight on how to remain professional and ethical when engaging in a debate or when having to take an adverse position.

For the last few years we've witnessed a terrible display of debate ethics in the media. Debate should never be filled with sarcasms, degrading words, belittling, or disrespect. What I learned is that we should strive to make point using tact while being assertive. To exercise this kind of diplomacy an individual must keep their emotions in check even when facing an opponent that's doing everything they can to pull you off your square.

I was able to use some of the things that I've learned during a mediation conference with Mediator Dozeman, Assistant Attorney General Allen Soros, and Khristian Vanhaften. The purpose of the mediation conference was to resolve and settle a civil suit. I was able to use skills learns in this workshop to keep track of the contentions of the opposing side and maintaining a stance that was assertive but cooperative. Which resulted in me settling the case.

The things that have been imparted to me thus far at the debate workshop has given me a new perspective when negotiating and taking an adverse position. Most importantly I learned to keep an open mind . I can honestly say I was a better negotiator and adversary. I was able to share this experience with the workshop today. This is an example of how this workshop can have a positive impact and be used in our everyday life. To be continued...

Thursday, September 26, 2019

"The Introduction Matters"

On September 25th, 2019 at Saginaw Correctional Facility located in Freeland Michigan Lt. Wendt and Ms. Raquepaw brought in Professor Flemming Rhode and a group of students from Central Michigan University (CMU). Today the energy of the class was amazing. After reflecting on the first workshop experience where we were introduced to the students, I realized the energy was a little tense. I had to acknowledge that coming into a prison to visit for any reason can be overwhelming. I've heard this sentiment from a lot of different people.

Today the students came into to the room with an energy that I've seen before on the television show Scared Straight. I felt the need to remind them that this was not a Scared Straight episode.This actually lightened up the energy in the room and resulted in an open question and answer exchange between the men here and the students once we were given the floor by Captain Wirley.

A few of the students had some interesting questions. One student asked about the work assignments that we have in prison. Men shared their work experiences: food service workers, dog trainers, janitors/porters, tutors, and clerks. Hearing that some men only make cents an hour surprised some of the students. However, the men being able to acknowledge that they were able to see the good in the "work experience" was significant. If a person will work a hundred and sixty hours or more a month for less than a hundred dollars this work ethic can be taken to the community and turned into a success story.

One of the men here was sharing with the students all the jobs that he works in the institutions. They were under the impression that he was being paid for them only to realize that he volunteered for all the jobs except his job as a dog trainer. Hearing this man share his story with the students about being sentenced to two life sentences, but yet continuing to strive and prepare himself to return to society is powerful. Some might ask what's the need for preparing for the community if he was sentenced to life. Well, the answer to that is simple. Laws change everyday and men are being vindicated often.

I can use myself as an example. I always knew I would get out of prison. But I never knew that I would be given the chance to get resentenced. Then the law changed... The work that I did to improve myself prepared me for this opportunity and my future. So to be one of the men in this workshop to sit in front of these students and show that there are some men imprisoned like myself and others who have prepared ourselves to return to the community and the students being able to see that we all don't fit the stereotype that's shown on television gives a different perspective for society to hear.

It's my opinion that the youth and college students are paramount for any kind of change to happen when dealing with social issues including prison reform. I say this because they are the visionaries and individuals that have the energy and intellect needed to make changes.

After hearing the students express how some of the stories touched them while knowing that the men in the room were genuinely being who I see them being everyday made me smile inside. Surprisingly one of the men here approached me after this workshop and expressed to me that he was impressed by how I interact with people. I shared with him it's important that we always interact with people with the mind of a person that's free.

Meeting these students was a great experience for the men here and the appreciation was shared with them. What I didn't realize was that I would have to do so much reading. Smile. To be continued...

Sunday, September 22, 2019

Preparing The Mind Field For Debate

September 20, 2019 during our Central Michigan University (CMU) debate workshop we were given a debate syllabus by Professor Ed Hinck. Being given the concept of a "flow Sheet" may be basic for some but to the men here at Saginaw Correctional Facility (SRF) we thought it was thought-provoking. Being given a format on how to structure a debate/argument was enlightening. Of course many of us compared the debate structure to the format of a criminal trial since that is something that we were familiar with. This thought process made it easier for us to wrap our minds around the "flow sheet" concept. Then we were taught about "sign posting", which explained what contentions are when debating. To identify the contentions one must be actively listening.

Being able to process information and respond requires a substantial amount of cognitive awareness. It demands an individuals complete focus. It was described by the professor as mental combat. This sparring of the minds is giving us the training in the area of processing information, organizing our thoughts, and responding to something verbally instead of physically while maintaining self-control. In my opinion, the training from this workshop can be used as a tool to balance out impulsiveness that has controlled so many men.

As I reflect on conflicts on a domestic level and in the community they often begin as an argument and end in a physical confrontation. The result of two people having different views or opinions is sadly violence. This was  fueled by insults during a debate or argument or by offense that was taken based on how an adverse position was expressed. One example that was used by a staff member was the issue of domestic violence. These debate skills can be effective when helping relationships because the format that we are being taught requires a person to be quiet and listen before expressing our position. In addition, it teaches us to express our position without being sarcastic, belittling, or offensive.

It's my hopes that all the men here at SRF will take the lessons from this debate course and realize that disagreements will happen in life and sometimes we may even have to agree to disagree. But most importantly that disagreement doesn't have to be hostile and everyone is entitled to their own position or perspective.

Today we were also given study material to begin doing the research for our debate. The status quo is: "The current energy policy". This topic is current all around the world with the conversations about renewable energy. Some of the men here were concerned that the students ability to do research is vast with their internet access so they would have an advantage because we don't have internet access. My position is that we must study what we have and be prepared. In the bible David only had a stone while Goliath had a sword. David showed up and threw what he had and prevailed.

On Wednesdays September 25th, 2019 we will be introduced to another group of students from Central Michigan University (CMU). I'm looking forward to this! To be continued.

Thursday, September 19, 2019

Social Interactions Contributing To Prison Reform

Today on September 18, 2019 students from Central Michigan University came into the Saginaw Correctional Facility located in Freeland, Michigan. These students were brought in by Ms. Raquepaw and Professor Ed Hinck to be apart of the debate workshop. A lot goes into the planning of these workshops on both ends. Prison staff must do lien clearances and searches and the students must experience these necessary security measures.

Today the CMU students were given a tour of the facility and collectively we were given a brief overview of the debate workshop and the intended schedule. Then the men were given the chance to introduce themselves to the students. This brief interaction was an opportunity for the men inside to take a deep breath and feel human for a few minutes. The truth is that a small social interaction such as this can contribute greatly to preparing someone inside to return to the community.I say this because a lot of men in prison have visits and interactions with people from society, but then there are also many  men who don't have these regular interactions with people from the community. For both groups of men, being in this prosocial environment can give the courage and confidence needed to later pursue opportunities like employment, education, and community outreach when released from prison; settings that otherwise they might find intimidating.

I am now looking forward to the debate experience and seeing all of the other men and students hone their oration and critical thinking skills. Skills that are important to be happy and successful. These skills that we will be learning and practicing can be helpful when working through conflict in the home, community, and office. A great deal of issues are rooted in individuals having the inability to communicate and think effectively and being impulsive.

This debate workshop will give us the chance to learn how to focus, mentally process our thoughts, listen, and then respond, which are all qualities needed to be productive citizens. If anyone has had an awkward social encounter with someone just returning home from prison please share the story with me in the comment section so I can encourage men to work on these issues. 

To be continued...Robert